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The Musical Side of Things: Autonomous Entity

Anybody who knows me knows that music is my center. For most of my life I felt like a spectator of the art though, until I picked up a guitar a few years ago and started learning. Ever since, making music has been the thing that’s kept me sane, and I’ve tried to expand my pursuit of the craft into production and songwriting. All that to say I’ve started releasing some singles on my SoundCloud page and would love for you all to check it out, rate and share if you can.

As far as the reasoning behind the stage name–Autonomous Entity–I’ve always been a bit of an introvert and loner (comes with the writing territory) and everything I’ve done musically I’ve taught myself and completed solo. So the name seems fitting.

A.E. for short.

Much love.

-P

Click here for Autonomous Entity’s SoundCloud page.

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Uncategorized

Black Unicorns

When I was eight I got in a fight with a white kid at my school, Palmetto Elementary, which was—at the time, don’t know what it’s like today—an overwhelmingly white institution in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood of Pinecrest in the overwhelmingly Hispanic city of Miami.

This kid I fought, he was really white too. Like freckles-red-hair-sunburns-thin-nose type white.

We were in after-school care that day, the place where we spent our afternoons, us kids whose parents couldn’t get out of work at three o’clock to pick us up. The whole lot of us were out in the field behind the school playing baseball and I was up at bat when the redhead kid hit me with a pitch—very obviously on purpose—then had the audacity to call it a strike. I pointed out to him that he’d hit me with the ball, so it couldn’t be a strike (confident in this knowledge of the rules because I was a baseball fan at the time, before the Marlins ruined that…but I digress). His response was that he didn’t care, it was a strike because he said it was a strike. I told him that was stupid. He said I was stupid—a stupid black boy, to be exact—then he jumped on me and punched me in the head half a dozen times.

When he was done, he got up and attempted to swagger away. I remember that enraged me more than anything, the nonchalance, so I stood up and grabbed the aluminum bat he’d knocked out of my hand and I hit him, right on the ass. Not my best swing, and probably the worst place you could hit somebody if you really wanted to hurt them. I was never good at baseball anyways (probably another reason I lost interest…naaah still blaming the Marlins). After I hit him, we started wailing on each other until the after-school care counselors pulled us apart, which couldn’t have been pleasant for them.

As can be expected, me and the redhead kid both ended up in the Principal’s Office (just now noticed those initials are P.O.) with tears in our eyes and snot in our nose. I don’t know why the other kid was crying, but I knew why I was: I was 99.9% sure I was about to get the ass whooping of a lifetime when my parents came to pick me up. I’d never been in a full-on fight before, with kids circling around us and all. It had been absolutely exhilarating, for a moment. But now things were too real. I just wanted to go home and have somebody tell me this wasn’t the end of the world, that I hadn’t done anything too wrong.

Me and the other boy sat there like that for about ten minutes before the supervisor of after-school care heard me crying and came flying out of her office with her bright red hair trailing behind her. I can’t remember this woman’s name or much of her physical features, except to say that it started with an F and she was tall and skinny with that bright red hair, like flames shooting out of her follicles. But she needs a name so we’ll call her…just spit-balling ideas here…Ms. Fire Witch.

Anyways, Ms. Fire Witch came flying out of her office, walked up to me and told me to shut up, stop crying, that I’d brought this on myself. Told me the only reason I was upset was because I knew what I’d done was “disgusting” (I remember her specifically using the word “disgusting”; it’s been my main association with that word to this day). She told me that I was only crying because I knew I was in big trouble, that there was a possibility I’d be expelled and sent back to the school I was supposed to go to, which I most certainly would not like.

I’ve always wondered how Ms. Fire Witch knew I wasn’t originally supposed to be attending Palmetto.  Guess she’d checked my records. Which I’m sure was standard, right?

The school I was originally zoned for—the school that was closest to my parent’s house—was Colonial Elementary. However, at the time that I was enrolling, Colonial’s rating in the city’s school-grading system was very low. Always prioritizing education, my parents discovered this information and petitioned to get me transferred to Palmetto (and yes, you guessed it, Colonial Elementary is in a predominantly black neighborhood, which is a whole other issue in and of itself but I’m trying to stay on track here and failing miserably as we speak so let’s keep it moving).

So yes, Ms. Fire Witch did have a point: if I were to be expelled from Palmetto I would more than likely end up back at my originally-zoned school. Which I very much would not like. Palmetto was what I was used to.

Ms. Fire Witch got in my face and pointed her long, witchy fingers and peeled her lips back like a snarling pitbull and straight up berated me. I’m surprised she didn’t spit on me in the process, but I’m pretty sure she wanted to. When she was done, I was a fucking wreck. She didn’t say anything to the redhead kid sitting next to me though, who had long since stopped crying and was playing around with a hole in his t-shirt.

In the end, Ms. Fire Witch made the mistake of yelling at me right as my mom was walking in to pick me up, at which point Ms. Fire Witch found herself subjected to the wrath of a Jamaican mother. I got a Burger King kid’s meal out of the ordeal (thanks Ma).

I wrote about this while I was in grad school in an essay called “Defense” that was originally published in Midwest Literary Magazine (now defunct; I’ll probably end up posting it on here one of these days). At the time, I never really thought about why I felt the need to write that particular story. Looking back now though, I realize that was one of many defining moments in my life, the type of moments that have made me who I am today.

I would never hit anybody now (unless they hit me first), or even pick a verbal fight with someone unless I knew them extremely well and therefore knew that the argument would stay civil (and even then). This is partly because I hate confrontation, which many consider a good character trait in a civilized society. As a result, I’ve never really had to own up to the actual basis of my inherent passiveness:

Fighting or arguing—to me—is and has been historically pointless for black men.

No matter what, no matter where I am or what exactly I’m doing or who I’m doing it with or what the initial result of the altercation is, I don’t get to ever actually win. Not ever. Not in the long or short run. Sure, I might knock somebody out. Or stun them with a verbal jab. But I still don’t ever win.

This phenomenon is known as a Pyrrhic Victory, aka a Hollow Win. The classic phrase: winning the battle but losing the war? Pyrrhic.

I came to this conclusion at eight years old, and it has dictated nearly every move I’ve made in the years since.

It’s no coincidence then that the same year I got in that fight, I also became the fanatic reader and writer that I still am to this day, using written words to vent frustrations I felt I couldn’t actually voice. Using books to form a wall between myself and a society that just felt too intense, adding layers to that wall as I grew older (i.e. headphones, my computer, video games, cell phones, school, TV, social media, this blog).

You see, I was raised by my parents to be a critical thinker. So back then, in my eight year old mind, I came to the simple and logical conclusion that other people look at black boys like me as aggressive and simply wrong by nature. Logic then dictated that the only way to counteract this image was to be quiet, and do what I was told. So I shut up and got to work.

Today, the person I am—Patrick Anderson Jr.—has been shaped by this creed into the archetype of the 21st century Educated Black Man.

A “unicorn,” as someone once called me.

My resumé: Associates Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, university teaching credentials, current full time college professor with some New York press experience tacked on for flavor. Over a dozen short stories published along with a novel, and I’m currently working on a trilogy of crime thrillers (and yes, I am tooting my own horn here for a moment, let. me. live.)

Yet it is my reality that in my mindand this is how deep it is, that even as I write this and know who I am and what I’m capable of accomplishing, the feeling is still there, rooted in my subconscious, screwing with the confidence I’ve worked so hard to build up—I will always be that little black boy who was shouted down for protecting himself.

For fighting back.

***

I’ve tried most of my life to get away from race, but it follows me everywhere.

I’ve tried at multiple points to be the non-racial writer, the non-racial boyfriend, the non-racial friend, employee, boss, teacher, citizen. I spent pretty much all of high school and college trying to be the type of black guy who nobody could label “The Black Guy.” Yet, in retrospect, all that effort did was make me realize even more that being black is something I have no choice but to define myself by. Which ultimately taught me many things about what it means to be black in the United States.

Lessons Learned:

  • Being black means having to be overly cautious about your temper, to avoid being labeled the “Angry Black Guy.” Because everybody hates that guy, right?
  • Being black means you’ll be told you’re being “too black” any time you assert yourself with any sort of attitude.
  • Being black means having to listen to other people tell white guys who talk like ignorant idiots, wear clothes eighty sizes too big for them, and otherwise act absolutely nothing like you, that they’re trying to be black.
  • Being black means dating is restrictive, with the choices being either 1) date other black people, which is fine when you live in a black area but limits the hell out of your choices when 81% of your hometown is white or Hispanic, or 2) date outside your race but remember to ask the necessary questions, of which there’s really only two:
    1. “Is she into black guys?”
    2. “Do her parents like black guys?”
  • Being black means the above are legitimate questions, and a lot of times the answers are flat out “No” and “Hell No.” And when the answer is “Yes,” there’s very frequently an agenda attached. Like dating a black guy is the equivalent of joining the Peace Corps or traveling to Africa to volunteer at some impoverished village. Matter of fact, Match.com should add that as a filter on their Profile Search page; a little check-box labeled “Into Black Guys,” right next to “Hobbies” and “Education Level”
  • Being black means having to work to get the type of respect others get just by waking up in the morning.
  • Being black means choosing a side, all your life, or risk becoming a social pariah. And the sides are many, and none of them will ever completely accept you as a good representation of the blackness they need for their group.
  • Being black means success makes you the exception in the eyes of the rest of the country.
  • Being black means walking outside with an automatic target on your forehead, whether it’s from mildly insulting “jokes” tossed nonchalantly in your direction like flippant grenades, blatant displays of hatred and brutality that cut like daggers to the throat, or literal bullets from guns held by citizens and authorities alike.
  • Being black means being labeled the “Sensitive Black Guy” if you get angry about any of the above, and “Cool Black Guy” if you pretend you don’t.
  • Being black means waking up every day fully aware that you are black, and knowing that’s a detriment to your character for many people, a sign that you are less of a person, and you always will be, no matter how much you achieve.
  • Being black should be a simple fact about a person, like they’re left handed, or they have green eyes, or their hair is naturally blonde. Instead, being black is a lifestyle forced upon you from birth.
  • Being black means receiving skeptical, borderline frightened looks from people who don’t know you, when you’re just walking by. Being black means having to subtly convince these people by your own actions that you aren’t dangerous, even though you’ve never done anything to make anybody think that about you in the first place.
  • Being black means being called a mythical creature (a unicorn, for instance) or a type of cookie (Oreos are delicious though) when you prioritize education and expanding your mind.
  • Being black means you can’t say things like “being black means…” without alienating people who subconsciously subscribe to the racist views our society prides itself on.
  • Being black means that you are at constant odds with the American social system, from national media straight down to the people you hang out and work with. On a personal level, my blackness has been a universal conversation starter at almost every job I’ve ever had, and many of those conversations have left me seething inside.

When the topic switches to the subject of Systemic Racism, at some point somebody always asks for a definition. As in, what is systemic racism, how do we describe it, make it tangible? For me, the above list of lessons is my definition of Systemic Racism. Which is to say that it doesn’t just exist as part of the system. It is the system.

Saying that racism doesn’t exist is like saying the United States economy doesn’t exist. In reality, there would be nothing without it.

I can’t attempt to speak for other people, because I’ve seen the way people think, and we really are all very different from one another, and pretty chaotic when left to our own devices. And stubborn, also. Extremely stubborn.

I’m just here to tell you my experience of being an educated black kid growing up in Florida.

The aforementioned “unicorn.”

***

I remember my first day at Palmetto Elementary, remember walking into the classroom and looking out at the sea of small white faces and thinking so this is what people call a Good School. Things shifted a little as I aged though, and in the seventh grade I found some solidarity with the other Caribbean-American kids at Southwood Middle. However, I very soon realized that there were factions within those groups too: you were either all about your heritage and Caribbean culture, or you weren’t really Caribbean at all. And I’ve never really been all about any one thing. The trend of judgment in that circle was a natural and justifiable response to the animosity we received from mainstream white America, but it was also a whole other problem in itself.

It’s one thing to feel alienated by people who don’t look like you, a whole other thing to feel that other-ing from people who do look like you. Add to that the fact that I was in a gifted program that was predominantly white, making me almost always the only black kid in my classes.

By high school I got used to these circumstances, to the point that I actually felt less comfortable on the rare occasions I found myself in an all-black environment. Still feels Twilight-Zone-ish to this day, to be honest; last time I went to Atlanta to visit family, I couldn’t remember having ever seen that many black people in one place. It was a little awkward, like waking up one day, walking outside and finding all the houses on your block have been remodeled to look just like yours.

But more importantly, high school is where I started dating. And if you want a quick report on the state of American race-relations, talk to a black guy who’s dated/is dating outside of his race.

My high school dating life, and largely my life as a whole, can be summed up by a conversation I recently had with a Colombian ex-girlfriend of mine from tenth grade. During this conversation, my ex confessed to me that part of the reason we broke up back then—a breakup that came seemingly out of nowhere for me—was because she didn’t want to be the Hispanic girl dating the black guy anymore.

Not because she was racist, but because racist people kept harassing her.

I knew nothing about this because she didn’t tell me at the time. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings. And I’m not mad at her in the slightest. I mean, she was fifteen, and we dated for like two months. I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in her situation. That’s a lot to deal with.

But the moment she told me what had happened, it rang true. Because the fact is that dating—like many of the basic things I do in life—has always felt a bit rigged. Like I’m entering a race with steel plates bolted to the bottom of my shoes.

There’s a limit placed on black people in American society. One that is so pervasive it’s almost impossible to articulate, so powerful not even money can overcome it.

Oprah is Oprah, powerful as shit and rich as hell. But she’s still a black woman. There are certain parts of this country she can’t walk into without protection specifically because she’s black, and there are millions—repeat, millions­—of people in this country who are lower than her on the economic totem pole. Yet many of those people would still cringe at even the thought of having to be Oprah for a day.

Oprah’s worth 2.6 billion dollars.

What the hell are my chances?

***

At some point in American history, living as a black person went from being a work status, to a crime, to a condition. And while the first two labels were horrific in their violence and backbreaking will, that last one is genetic, ingrained in our blood, a cellular gene that dictates how our life experience will be colored from the moment we take our first breath.

For the vast majority of my formative years, I stayed quiet about the things I witnessed, the way this society treated me and other black people. I ignored it and even denied it on a few occasions. Looked at other black people straight-faced and declared “Racism is over. Shut up about it already.”

Ignorance is no longer an option.

The roots of racism are fighting progress every step of the way. And I can say definitively and without hyperbole that the percentage of black people who are okay with business as usual has dropped down to nearly zero (there’s always that one guy/girl on Fox News though, huh?).

There are no such things as unicorns. Just like there’s no such thing as a Typical Black Guy.

We are all nuanced. We are all individuals with the same basic inalienable rights. And we demand to be treated as such.

There is no more room for equivocation on this front.

There is just us.

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Rants, Uncategorized

I Grew Up a Privileged Black Man

The night Obama won his first term, I was living in Tallahassee, working towards my BA at FSU and in the midst of applying to grad programs. I remember that night perfectly for a couple of positive reasons (first time I’d seen anybody who looked even remotely like me in the office of highest power in the nation I call home) and one particularly negative one.

I was dating a white girl at the time (promise her race is relevant to the story). She and I had been a thing for almost a year at that point and were basically living together in my apartment a couple of blocks from campus. That evening, after Obama’s win was announced, we climbed into my blue Scion and headed out to a CVS down the street to grab some beers, come back and celebrate.

Before we got there, we stopped at an intersection in front of a bar—karaoke bar right across the street from my place, forget the name, with the upstairs flooring that bounced like a trampoline when it was packed—and my girlfriend and I observed a number of people outside of this bar with signs up, congratulating Obama.

Right when the light turned green, one of the celebrating guys—anybody who knows Florida State and this particular bar can imagine the condition he was in—stepped into the street, in front of my car. I had to slam on my brakes, and I tapped my horn reflexively. The guy looked embarrassed, waved at me with a sheepish grin. I waved back then tapped my horn again (promise it was a tap, I’ve never been a long-winded honker, liable to get you shot in Miami) and threw a fist up in solidarity (or a thumbs up more likely, I’m waaaaay cooler in my memories than I actually am in real life). A few seconds later, my rear view mirror lit up with flashing red and blue lights.

Now, everybody knows the feeling of seeing those red and blue lights in your rear view, regardless of the color of your skin. And I’ll admit, the version of me that existed in 2008 hadn’t yet woken up to the reality of his existence.

Like……my asshole clenched up real tight when I saw those lights, sure. But not as tightly as it would’ve clenched up today.

In other words I’d dealt with cops enough to know I pretty much needed to shut up, nod and follow their lead, but not enough to know that those actions sometimes still might not be enough.

The cop approached the driver’s side and the moment I rolled my window down, there was a flashlight in my face. I squinted and held my hand up, and the officer switched the beam to the passenger seat. I could see his face then, white guy with pink cheeks and a Smokey the Bear type hat. He shined the light on my girlfriend for a moment. Then he asked her if she was “in any distress.”

I didn’t even notice the words until later on, just sat there thinking there was something in his tone that I didn’t like. Something accusatory. My girlfriend was maaaaad confused like 🤨 but she just nodded and said yeah, I’m fine.

The officer turned the flashlight back on me and smiled, pretty sure he winked too (don’t quote me). Asked me if I was out here celebrating Obama’s win “like the rest of them” (you can quote me there). I just shrugged and said yeah, nothing over the top. Knew enough not to get goaded into THAT conversation. He nodded and did the license/registration routine. I handed them over and he studied them then looked at me and asked me why I was honking right before he pulled me over.

Pause.

So, I’ve always thought myself a sort of scientifically-minded person. As in, I believe in the scientific method, and the lessons we as a species have learned as a result of it. In this situation, the evidence was presented to me in real time. The number of seconds that elapsed between

1) me honking my horn at the guy stumbling in front of my car, and

2) this state trooper flashing his lights in my rear view,

were a single handful—five at most—which only stood to reason that he’d been behind me during the entire encounter.

So I explained to him what he’d probably already just seen. And he told me that I was in violation of local noise statutes. Because it was after the cutoff point (9pm/10pm, can’t remember which). I said okay and he walked off to his vehicle. A few minutes later he came back and explained to me that he was only going to give me a warning for the noise violation, but he’d have to give me and my girlfriend tickets for not having our seat belts on (I promise I’ve gotten better about that).

I signed it and he gave me my copy, did the same with my girl then he left and I drove off and continued to CVS for our original purpose: beer. At some point—after a couple of complaints from me about the injustice of the entire stop, much less the tickets—my girlfriend told me I should have said something, told the cop he was out of line.

Which I laughed at, of course.

The point of this story isn’t what happened to me that night though, not in the slightest. The point is what I eventually found out—over the next decade or so—could’ve happened to me. If I was a different person.

My parents are immigrants, came to Miami from Jamaica in the early 80s right before I was born. Strict Christians, so I was (with very frequent protestations on my part) raised in that value system. My father’s a product of straight up abuse and neglect but also a very educated individual, which gave him a firm belief that education is the only real way to escape your conditions when your conditions are sub-par.

As a result, education was not just A priority for me growing up, it was THE priority. I did pretty good in high school too, but as any person with Caribbean parents like mine can vouch, there was always another level you could reach in their eyes (love you muma and pa ✊🏾). I spent the first eight years of my life living with my parents and younger sister in a tiny apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood off Caribbean Blvd in South-South Miami before they saved up enough to buy the house in Perrine they currently reside in, the house I’m destined to inherit.

Which is to say, on the spectrum of black existence in the United States, I grew up privileged.

I never had to worry about where I was going to sleep.

I never had to worry about not seeing at least one of my parents at some point throughout the day, much less both.

I never had to worry about drive-by shootings, or eviction notices, or gangbangers or close family members in prison or my next meal or shoes or clothes.

I never had to worry about much really, except staying out of trouble (fail), being home by dinner and the aforementioned grades. I’ve been through my fair share of hardships, but they’re mostly side effects of life. The type of stories you toss out when everybody else is airing their dirty laundry at 2 am and you get that weird urge to outdo each other in the “who’s childhood fucked them up more?” conversation.

So even though I spent much of Obama’s initial-inauguration-evening bitching about a slightly weird encounter with a state trooper, the experience didn’t linger outside of that feeling of wrongness, like I’d slipped into the Twilight Zone for a moment there. I paid my ticket and my girlfriend paid hers and we went on about our business of getting the 🤬 out of Tallahassee as soon as possible.

The keywords for me in the above paragraph are “I paid my ticket.” If I had not been me—the type of person who grew up with parents who would never let him starve, who would never let him seriously need, who would never let him encounter a state trooper without at least SOME preparation for the Dance with Law Enforcement—

—If I was somebody lower on the spectrum of black existence in America, basically—

—My future/current position might be very different. I might not even be writing this right now.

There’s a podcast on NPR called Serial I got into a couple of years ago (like a lot of other people who are into good journalism). It studies how the justice system treats certain cases, starting season one with a thorough exploration of a murder trial that—due in part to Serial‘s coverage—has since led to a retrial for the accused, Adnan Syed. Season two covers the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan in 2009, and both seasons are amazing from a journalistic standpoint.

But my favorite season, by far, is season three, where the podcast’s investigative team tackles not just a single case but the entire local justice system in Cleveland, Ohio. Per the website’s description:

“Inside these ordinary cases we found the troubling machinery of the criminal justice system on full display. We chose Cleveland, because they let us record everywhere — courtrooms, back hallways, judges’ chambers, prosecutors’ offices. And then we followed those cases outside the building, into neighborhoods, into people’s houses, and into prison. We watched how justice is calculated in cases of all sizes, from the smallest misdemeanor to the most serious felony.”

It was during this season that I started to really understand the detailed machinations of a system that I’d always thought was a little bit awry, even though I never really understood why I felt like that. In the first episode of Serial season three, producer Sarah Koenig discusses the case of a woman going by the pseudonym “Anna.” For the purposes of speeding things along I’ll spare you the lengthy recap and just provide a video of the encounter that led to Anna’s arrest (Anna is the one getting smacked on the butt):

 

Along with a quote from Cleveland.com’s recap of the episode:

“The video shows the woman [Anna] talking to a man near the bar. She turned toward the bar, and he smacked her behind. Without turning around, she patted her own behind twice in response.

Another man seated nearby smacked [Anna] again a few seconds later. She wiggled back at him. The men continued smacking her, but she clearly grew irritated with it. She twice turned around, including once to give a half-hearted kick, and then, after the seventh time the men smacked her, got close to the man’s face. That’s when another woman who was sitting a few stools down stood up, walked directly in front of the 21-year-old woman and started yelling in her face.

Both reached for one another at almost the same time, and the fight broke out. The officers in the bar did not immediately get involved, and the fight turned into a scrum.

At one point a third woman, who was talking to [Anna] on the stool, appears to kick the 21-year-old woman while she was on the ground. A man grabbed that woman from behind and held her back.

When the officers finally came over to break up the fight, the 21-year-old got back up and threw punches while several people tried to restrain her. That’s when a punch landed on one of the Gill’s jaw. They took [Anna] down to the ground.

Police put [Anna] in the back of a police car while they sorted out the situation.”

Now, how this incident plays out is baffling enough on its own. But the eventual outcome of the entire situation for “Anna” is particularly interesting:

“[Anna] was taken to the city jail, where she sat for four days before she appeared in Cleveland Municipal Court for arraignment on a felony assault on a police officer charge, which carried a maximum sentence of nine months in prison. She was not charged in connection with the fight with the woman.

She pleaded not guilty and was released after she posted a $5,000 bond through a bonding agency.

A judge appointed attorney Russell Bensing to represent her. He and assistant county prosecutors got together and worked out a deal to bypass the grand jury and agree to be charged by information, which usually comes with an agreement that the defendant will plead guilty.

The case was then assigned to Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Jennifer King, who had yet to see the video […] King eventually offered a deal for the woman to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault. Bensing and the woman rejected the deal.

The case came upon the original trial date of June 12, 2017 with no plea deal in place. Judge Maureen Clancy pushed the trial back a month, and on the two sides reached a deal on the morning of the second trial date.

Prosecutors dropped the assault on a police officer charge and she pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Clancy imposed no jail time, fined her $200 and ordered her to pay court costs that equaled the cost of her prosecution, which according to court records worked out to $782.50.”

Putting aside all the injustices “Anna” went through during this encounter, and putting aside the injustices she went through in trying to seek justice for this encounter, I’m focusing on two particular aspects:

1) the fact that Anna is white, and

2) the end result of this entire case.

Ultimately, Anna’s cost for defending herself was a $5,000 bond, four nights in jail with the threat of nine months more, a $200 fine and an additional $782.50 in court costs. And this happened to a white woman.

Now…most people I know don’t have that type of money lying around to just throw at criminal charges.

Which brings me back to my encounter with that state trooper in Tallahassee the night Barack Obama was elected.

Because sure, I was able to pay that seat belt ticket. I was able to pay that ticket and move on with my life, and I am now an “upstanding citizen” with a career and motivations to succeed into the future. Largely because I grew up in the privileged portion of that spectrum of black existence in the United States.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if, as a child, I had had to worry about where I was going to sleep?

What if I had had to worry about not seeing at least one of my parents at some point throughout the day?

What if I had had to worry about drive-by shootings? About eviction notices? About gangbangers or close family members in prison or my next meal or shoes or goddamn clothes?

What if I had gone through all that and still made it to Tallahassee, only to meet up on that state trooper and receive that ticket?

What if I hadn’t had the disposable income to pay for that ticket, or the support from family just in case?

Let’s run through the hypothetical, eh?

Let’s say I’m working paycheck to paycheck for tuition and expenses, as many people I knew in college were. Let’s say I don’t have the disposable income to take care of that ticket I just received, and I don’t have the safety net of a family with their own income to help me out. Let’s say I have no discernible option other than to just let that ticket sit there and fester, like a severe wound on a person without health insurance.

What happens next?

Simple. Eventually, my license gets suspended. I might not even know about this either, it’ll just be suspended, just like that.

A couple months after Obama’s election, I was pulled over again heading back to Tally from Miami on I-10. Pulled over for speeding, and yes I was speeding. Not by a lot but yes, my bad. The cop—a black guy—checked my license then came back and told me to be careful, then let me go with a warning. Told me his CO was waiting in another state trooper vehicle ahead a couple of miles so I should slow down. It was a pleasant encounter.

Getting back to our hypothetical though…imagine I hadn’t paid that seat belt ticket. And imagine, now, my license was suspended when that cop pulled me over for speeding on I-10. Per Florida statutes, the first conviction of driving with a suspended license is:

“…a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum of 60 days in jail.”

Imagine now that hypothetical version of me—dude who had had to worry about where he was going to sleep growing up, had to worry about not seeing at least one of his parents if not both at some point throughout the day, had to worry about drive-by shootings and eviction notices and gangbangers and close family members in prison and his next meal and shoes and fucking clothes. 

Imagine now that that guy is spending a few nights in jail, because a cop didn’t like how he honked his horn.

Imagine he has a job, and he’s now lost it. Because he couldn’t show up to work on time while he’s locked up in a jail cell. All because a cop didn’t like how he honked his horn.

Imagine he finally gets out of jail and can’t afford that $500 fine. Imagine that this leads to more run-ins with the police, and more and more shit piled onto his shoulders, until his life is entirely ruined because of this initial encounter with an officer who didn’t like how he honked his horn.

Imagine the country then turns around and tells him they don’t care. He should’ve honked his horn differently.

Imagine that for yourself. Then tell me.

Would you feel like being peaceful?

It could’ve happened to me like this easily, I’ve seen it happen to many others. That quick shift to the lower end of the spectrum of Black Existence in the United States. I’m glad it didn’t.

But that don’t mean my privileged black ass ain’t got stories to tell too.

And it don’t mean that I don’t know exactly how everybody out there protesting feels.

✊🏾

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